Tuesday, 3 July 2007

"I'm a travellin' man..."

I said I would pull together a few statistics for you about my 4 week trip across the U.S:

I travelled 5247 miles in total by car, plus a few extra by cab and ferry.

Total fuel cost $503.70 which by my reckoning, taking £1 to equal $1.95, makes it a barely believable £258.31. I don't think I have lost any receipts, though I may have to recheck this against my next bank statement.

During my journey a travelled through or visited 17 states:












North Carolina




New Jersey

New York.

During the 5,247 miles all but approximately 25 miles was with the roof off the car.

It rained no more than 3 times during the whole journey and the temperature never dropped below 85f during the day. Highest was 107f in Death Valley.

In order to win the contents of the above picture, go through the blog and jot down at least 5 song titles that are either used as titles for a days travel, or in many cases I have used part of a lyric from a song; if so tell me the title.

You could be a winner on the show this Friday! Good luck.

Please note: this competition is now closed.


Sunday, 1 July 2007

"...and cool your wings"

I am not sure I fully understand the logistics of air travel. I know roughly the physics. Keep moving forward; if you don't you hit the ground.

Arrived in plenty of time for the flight and did the automated check in so that my, by now, two bags (I had to buy another one for all the CDs I bought as well as prizes for you to win at the end of the coming week), were duly disappeared out the back of the check-in desk. The formalities were over and done within about 5 minutes which was pretty good going.
When the flight was called we duly boarded and I sat down. We then waited for nearly 2 hours as people from connecting flights arrived and also people got up and left. New people arrived and sat down. Luggage then had to be removed from the hold and new luggage loaded as they had overbooked the flight.

Bladders were filling so people kept going to the khazi and were shooed back to their seats by the attendants. "We can't push back until everyone is seated". Another 20 mins would go by...."right is everybody..." another few people would rush to the loo. When we eventually stared taxiing I peered out of the window and counted about a dozen planes in a queue ahead of us. This was taking forever.

Still taxiing, a woman got out of her seat to...."SIT DOWN!" The flight attendants were getting a little fractious by this time and frankly, I don't blame them. "TURN IT OFF" - to a stroppy teen still playing with his computer game. "SEAT UPRIGHT AND TABLE STOWED" to another youth from the same family who was trying to sleep with his head on the table. As a family they needed to be on "Con Air" I think.

At last we took off; a month later and from a different airport but "Wild Hogs" was still one of the in-flight movies. Despite all the delays we arrived a mere 20 mins late and that due to being in a holding pattern over Heathrow.

Caught the train back home and fell asleep in the bath.

Friday, 29 June 2007

"In a New York state of mind"

The last time I was here was in 1989 and it was about a week before Xmas. I found it freezing and slightly threatening. Certainly around Times Square.

A transformation has come over the city since my last visit, or maybe just my perception of it.

It is busy, busy, busy and with that comes exasperation and high levels of noise. My theory is that in order to mask the background noise of car and truck horns, construction work and people hustling anything from gold and diamonds to suits and theatre tickets, everyone has to turn it up a notch.

People complain about "Muzak" in public buildings. The hotel lobby where I am writing this has music thudding away which makes conversation difficult. Everyone is shouting to make themselves heard. I gave up on breakfast as Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes" forced me out of the restaurant area.

The first night I was here I set off for a walk in the steamy humidty and 85 degree evening heat. Every so often I would duck into a shop in order to cool off thanks to fierce air conditioning.

I found myself in an Irish Bar somewhere down Hells Kitchen way and fell into conversation with an ex pat Irish guy who had married and moved over here 8 years ago. His boss was with him. The Irishman had to translate a lot of the conversation as his chief was either drunk, mad or possibly both.

He was probably in his early 60's and talked about how in the New York of his childhood you had to marry within your own community. "If for example I went out with a Guinea I would get shot by her father."

Me: "Guinea?"
Him: "Italian."
Me "Isn't that term a racial slur?"
Barman "Yes, I think so these days."
Him to me "Anyways as I was saying...Italians married Italians...Polacks married Polacks."
Me: "Excuse me I think you may be slipping into old habits again."
Him: "I AM a Polack"
Me: "erm oh I see..lovely."

The conversation continued along similar lines for an hour or more as he railed against everything he could think of and more besides. The Irishman and myself were completely baffled when he decided that the reason the Queen doesn't have direct power any longer in the UK was part of a Communist plot.

As I left, I noticed a large poster on the wall which listed names such as that of Bobby Sands and other IRA and INLA "martyrs".

There was a thunderstorm and pouring rain as I squelched back to my hotel. A cab came round the corner too fast surprising me on a pedestrian crossing. "Mudder ******" shouted the driver. I gave him the finger.

This is a great town.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

"From sea to shining sea..." 159 miles

Atlantic City to New York is only a short hop compared to my previous jaunts, and it would be my last day's driving. The car has behaved wonderfully and in a later blog I will give the stats as to the full distance and the fuel usedzzzzzz.!!

Took the Garden State Parkway foolishly thinking that a city the size of New York would have a sign to it. Either I am losing my sight or I didn't actually see a single one on the entire journey! I wonder if the other places are jealous, or ashamed of it, and trying to keep it a secret.

I wanted to get to Kennedy Airport to return the car, then hop a cab to my hotel as car parking can be up to $60 a day and frankly I didn't fancy trying to find my hotel in midtown Manhattan with no navigator and a creaky sat nav that was unable to get me out of San Francisco. It has been useful in the wide open spaces when I have found myself 1000 miles from nowhere and the road I was on didn't appear on my map.

The Toll roads were coming thick and fast by this time and maybe it was my imagination but the traffic was speeding up as well as thickening.

On this trip, as a cautious driver and in no particular hurry, I have usually stayed in the right hand lane except when I needed to overtake an extremely slow moving Lincoln Town Car with an elderly couple inside, or a huge full loaded Mack truck which was climbing a steep gradient. The flaw in this plan is that if you are in the right hand lane, very often that means you have to turn right, so on at least one occasion I ended up leaving the toll road then having to get back on again which cost me another 25c.

I headed in the general direction of New York and asked one toll booth operator "New York this way?"....he just nodded.

A heavily industrialised landscape appeared through the haze on the horizon complete with some skyscrapers. This had to be it! Suddenly I was on the New Jersey Turnpike which is like being in a log flume, or going down one of those waterchutes at a theme park. Everyone is going hell for leather and don't get in my way buster!!!

In all my previous travelling here I have not witnessed, nor been on the receiving end, of any road rage.

I think the Americans store it up and then let it out here.

Everyone seemed to be blowing their horns at everyone else, and I suspect at me too for not going fast enough, even though I was at the limit. A car tailgated me and the driver had the hand hard down on the horn. As they swept past the driver, a little old lady, gave me the finger. In the passenger seat oblivious to all this an even older woman, I presume her mother.

It was obvious I was lost. At the next toll booth I encountered I asked the guy "which way to Kennedy airport?".
"Watcha doin here, this is Newark?" he then gave me some terrific and simple directions.
"See you in an hour, probably" I said.
"I'll be here," he replied.

Needed to get onto the "Beltway" so had to go back south on the turnpike and over a couple of bridges. The second of which the Verrazano you will have seen a hundred times before on the tv and in film. It is a huge suspension bridge with two decks. I ended up going over the river on the upper deck, although its not very scenic as you are still in this motorized, yelling and horn-honking bedlam.

Suddenly I was on the Beltway and actually saw a sign for the airport 15 miles ahead. I could relax slightly so began to get into the spirit of it by blowing my horn and flipping off anyone who got in my way.

However just ahead someone had fingered when they should have horned or maybe the other way round and there had been an accident. That meant I sat in the humidity and 90 degree heat for half an hour as they separated the fighting drivers and parked the wreckage of the vehicles by the side of the road.

The airport came into view and the sign "Rental Returns". Drove in parked. Decanted my stuff into a cab. Took one last picture and headed for the City, leaving behind a grimy, fly spotted, dead bird encrusted all-American muscle car.
I will miss you, my Ford Mustang I called Betty....

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

"On the boardwalk..." 174 Miles + 17 others, as will be explained.

Easy day, although I covered 4 states: woke up in Virginia, drove into Maryland, crossed into Delaware and then caught a ferry to New Jersey.
The roads are not only more crowded but toll roads and turnpikes have suddenly reared their change-guzzling heads. Admittedly, of the two I travelled, one cost 70c and the other $2, so haven't broken the bank. I expect I shall hit several more tomorrow.

With this type of outlay I have learned to organise my money over the last four weeks.

As this is a society that is based on tips, you need a good supply of dollar bills. Trouble is all the notes look the same apart from the denomination. When you see a tips jar full of paper I can see why it has been called variously "cabbage" as well as "greenbacks".

Dollar bills in the back pocket, fives front right and any other notes front left. This worked well until my final destination today when I was stymied by the cash point.... I will elaborate in a moment.

Stopped at a diner for breakfast: bacon strips, poached eggs on French toast. Not sure how different it was to normal toast, but it is nice to see that sanity has once again prevailed and it is not known as "Freedom Toast" or "Cheese Eating Surrender-Monkey Toast".

When I reached Lewes in "Sussex County" (I wonder where they got that idea from, geography fans?) I bought a ticket for the ferry. Lewes to Cape May is 17 miles across Delaware bay and takes about 70 minutes. It is pretty much like a cross channel ferry without as many shops. I sat outside and watched dolphins leaping out of the water whenever they knew that cameras weren't trained on them. I also saw hundreds of rather tough looking jellyfish and one small apologetic looking shark.

After landing at Cape May it was only 40 minutes to Atlantic City, passing Ocean City on the way....hang on....we just passed Ocean city!

The trouble with such a huge country, they ran out of place names early on I reckon. A lot of settlements have obvious Spanish names or Native American titles but with the others lies the problem.

How do you describe a place to someone and give it a name at the same time? Well you can always tell em what it looks like. That is why there are several "Big Trees" in the U.S. Or you could describe what you saw: "Lonesome Polecat Lane" in California. Or "Johnson Sausage Lane" - a place which had a filling station, and as far as I could tell had once boasted a meat factory. Then again, you could always tell people where to find you...such as beside the seaside, hence: "Ocean City".

This was fine when travel was by horse and it took days to get from one place to another. With the advent of the internal combustion engine and the paved highway, putting two Ocean Cities 67 miles apart does show a lack of imagination.

There is currently a media battle going on between the 14 different Springfields to be the one chosen to premier the new Simpsons movie shortly. One claims that "Shelbyville" is close by so it ought to be them. Another has ignored the competition as it was "nothing like the town portrayed in the cartoon" a claim all the other Springfields could make unless their inhabitants all have missing digits and severe jaundice (yellow complexions and 3 fingers, non cartoon watchers).

After Ocean City, New Jersey it was a few short miles to my destination - Atlantic City (like Ocean city but with education..obviously). My motel downtown is only a couple of blocks from the famous boardwalk, with its casinos and salt water taffy shops. I needed cash so found an ATM in a gambling house and asked for $100. Out came one crisp bill. I was astonished. Every time I have taken money from a machine on this trip it has arrived in my hand in the form of $20 bills. I can't go and buy a $3 Philly Steak sandwich (rather close to burritos I thought but very nice) with a $100 note!!

Salvation came with the "bill breaker" machine. You feed in your note and out come 5 not quite so crisp $20 bills. At last, after a month I have played a machine in a casino...and won!

Have you been with me all the way? Check out how far we've come on the route map which can be accessed via my showpage at www.bbc.co.uk/radio2.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

"They go up diddly up. They go down diddly own down..." 299 Miles

I forgot to mention a couple of days ago I crossed the final time zone, so I am now on Eastern Time (five hours behind the UK). I only noticed when the clock on my mobile reset itself automatically and I was wondering why everything seemed to shut even earlier than I had become used to.

Decided to get off the beaten track a little and go the long and scenic way round.

One thing I have noticed about cheap(ish) motels is their lack of soundproofing. It's the plumbing that makes the most noise. A flush here, a shower there, a morning ablute. It is deafening.

A party of Wild Hogs: middle aged biker boys from Tennessee I had met the previous evening were up early and cleaning themselves ready for the off. ("We don't mind who the next President is as long as its not Hilary Clinton")

Just as I was drifting off to sleep after this Niagara of cleansing, my British mobile rang with someone trying to sell me something. "Is this a good time?" "Well, I know you have a job to do, but as it is 0600 here in the U.S I would suggest...er...NO!"

If you noticed the reference to "the final approach to New York" in my previous entry you would think that sounded like an aviation term and you would be right. Now read on....

I headed out east to the coast. Washington being on the Tar River and part of the Pamlico Basin is I suppose strictly the Atlantic. However, to me I am not there until my feet are in the water.

I took the 92 then the 264 to Belhaven where I stopped for breakfast in a small town cafe. The woman liked my accent and added by way of background: "I am half Italian but I don't speak it". Then headed out to Nags Head followed by my first port of call "Kill Devil Hills".

If this doesn't ring a bell, 6 miles further north is the small settlement of Kitty Hawk. It gets the credit for being the site of the first powered flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903. However, the actual spot was on the large dunes of the Kill Devil Hills.

As you would expect there is a museum. In fact there are two on the same site, both of which have much the same in the way of exhibits....replicas of the glider and the powered aeroplane.

I think the dummy that is either Wilbur or Orville is actually marginally better dressed in the original museum. Certainly there is no wear on his boots. Lets face it, they spent far more time on the ground than in the air; those shoes should have got at least slightly scuffed, particularly in the early years, as they were in lodgings and had to walk 4 miles to the site and 4 miles back everyday. Fed up with this, they built a couple of sheds one for the plane and one for them.

Not entirely sure why there are two exhibitions. I think the second was put up 4 yrs ago to mark the centenary.

There is an imposing monument on top of the hill as well as a series of stone markers that effectively pace out the first four "hops". Kitty Hawk in 1903 was the middle of nowhere. It was chosen for its high winds and soft sand (makes sense if you are expecting to crash a lot). As you can imagine it is now a mass of motels beach front houses and restaurants. Competition is fierce. The advertising is equally to the point: "Don't suffer from entree envy eat here", "Pancakes and so forth", "Bobs Grill - eat here and get the hell out".

I was travelling along a glorified sand bar with the Pamlico then the Albermarle Sounds on my left and the Atlantic to my right. The road then heads inland to Chesapeake in Virginia. At this point to head along the eastern shore you are relieved of $12 to cross the 18 miles of the Chesapeake bridge and tunnel. It is impressive as you skim the water on a low roadway that hops from island to island, every so often plunging beneath the waves in a series of tunnels.

Being on the coast the "all you can eat" meat platters have been replaced by Surf and Turf and a lot of shellfish. In fact, I have just returned from a bar and grill called "The Trawler" here in Exmore after shovelling several types of shrimp, scallop and crab into my gaping maw. A side order of krill and I would be in danger of being harpooned by the Japanese for "research purposes".

Judging by the incredible watery slooshing noises from the room next door, I think an oriental research vessel may have just attempted to capture a fellow guest. Either that or he is having a shower.


Monday, 25 June 2007

"...through the cradle of the civil war.." 340 Miles

I had just got into bed last night in Morganton, after yet more Mexican food, when there was a bang, a flash, a boom, a fizz, another flash and a deafening "kkerrrrracckk".......

Thunder silly!

I have never witnessed a storm as violent. The rain poured from the skies and ten minutes later it was all over. The heat of the ground caused everywhere to be enveloped in a cloud of steam. Part of the reason I gather they call them the Smokey Mountains. About half an hour later the car park was a dry as a bone.

Nearly a whole day on the I40 as I continued to head east. I think I have decided on my final approach to New York. There is a clue in that last sentence.

The interstate is a lot more crowded, and a lot grubbier too, as the hard shoulder is littered with the remains of hundreds of truck tyres. No one seems to clean up in North Carolina. There was also a dining chair, a mattress, quite a few abandoned cars and bizarrely a pair of boxing gloves. Maybe a passenger asked "are we there yet?" one too many times.

Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Wilson, Durham and signposts to some of those places I remember from my schoolboy history about the American Civil war: Lexington, Wilmington, Bunker Hill.

The temperature is falling slightly as I am beginning to head closer to the coast and slightly further north. However it was still top down and air con on. Not sure if it is a fault but every so often a drop of condensation drops from under the bulkhead onto my exposed ankle. All instrument readings normal however. So far the car hasn't missed a beat.

I have, however, picked up a trophy. It was pointed out to me about 3 days ago by a puzzled kid: "You got a dead bird on your radiator, mister."

I remember where I picked up this unfortunate sparrow now. Halfway across Kansas. Birds fly low, presumably to avoid all the hawks that are circling. Alas, this one wasn't keeping an eye on where he was going and collided with me. There was no "ow thunk!" so I assumed it had swerved to safety. I shall carry him/her (can't tell) to New York as a hunting trophy in lieu of bull horns.

Turned north and thought I would spend the night in Greenville. Turned into a trading estate and it was as if it was a haven for anyone with any ailment.

Pristine modern building after building boasting signs such as: "Spine Right Chiropractors" "Retina Center", "Ankle Fix". I was driving so I am writing this from memory but you get the gist. Americans are very upfront about their ailments; healthcare is a business like any other. If you have the money, there is someone who claims he/she can do something for your problem, real or imagined.

In Los Angeles there was an off street kidney dialysis centre. You could peer in and see rows and rows of patients lying hooked up to machines, watching little TV's or reading the paper. The patients looking at the classifieds may have seen the ad I did which boasted: "Lunch hour G Spot sensitisation....are you getting all you should?" Not sure that is what I would want to be doing during my lunch hour if I was a woman. Where would you rest your sandwich?

I moved on to Washington which is nearly at the sea. The Tar river is close by and it was the birthplace of Cecil B De Mille. As you can see from the picture, it was rather quiet. Found a motel and asked, as ever, "where is a bar to get a cold beer?". The answer was pure "Driving Miss Daisy".... I set off walking, a free newspaper under my arm in search of the third stop light. I saw two young black women in a car at a road junction so was able to ask the question: "Is this the way to the Piggly Wiggly? I am looking for the "Southern Cheers" sports bar". There then ensued a heated discussion as to the correct way to the Piggly Wiggly. I left them to it and about a mile later I arrived at my destination to see the welcoming sign: "Closed"

Remember this is America and it's 6.30pm and it's Sunday. The Piggly Wiggly was open though.

You can check out my route so far at www.bbc.co.uk/radio2. Click on my show page and then "The Great American Adventure". You'll find it eventually!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

"My home is across the Smokey Mountains.." 358 Miles

Nearly 3 weeks in the US and I am beginning to get the scent of home. If I took the shortest route it is only about 700 miles to New York from here.

Another late night in Nashville where the only person who wasn't a musician appeared to be me. They do have some truly awful buskers though. Not sure why they bother with all the quality acts in the bars and theatres.

I was leaving the day the Flugfest took place; people build ludicrous flying machines and do a bit of a turn then hurl themselves into the river. Brighton does something similar, I think, from the end of the pier.

Like everything I have witnessed so far, there is a sponsor for this event. Most disconcerting for me, a man of the BBC, is the habit newsreaders have of stopping after the news headlines to deliver a lengthy sponsors message before the main body of the bulletin. I can't imagine Fiona Bruce doing that. However, it might cheer Huw Edwards up a bit. Several people have said to me, and I have also heard one commentator say, that the BBC is "dry". Well if you are not editorialising I suppose it would appear that way. However, our people do seem to take themselves rather seriously in comparison. To American eyes, British TV newsreaders must appear a little like Sam Eagle from the Muppet show segment "Rubber News" (even though I suspect he was based on US news legend Walter "and thats the way it looks" Kronkite). I do like the habit the some weather reporters have of giving little tips with the forecast though:

"Very high temperatures with low humidity today so if you are baking make sure you add extra water to your flour as it will be rather dried out and your cakes won't rise as easily". Now that is a helpful forecast!

Nashville this morning was a ghost town. I was unable to squeeze into the motel dining room for the "complimentary continental breakfast" as it was full of people pushing and shoving and generally chowing down. so I thought I would pop round the corner and find a cafe. Some hope. Nothing seemed ready to open much before 10.30. In the end I plumped for a Gyros sandwich in a Greek place. I am beginning to develop a taste for unsweetened iced tea. I expect it will taste vile at home in temperatures below 70F.

Getting out of town was easy; turn right, then the next right and it was straight onto the freeway. The further east I get the more traffic there appears to be. I suppose it is all to do with population density.

Headed east as usual and started to climb up between the Appalachian and the wonderfully green Smokey Mountains. I am beginning to get a better understanding of where the bits we have heard of are. So I now know where the Oak Ridge Boys presumably hail from. Not to be confused with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils - they are further west.

I crossed into North Carolina listening to some Appalachian Dulcimer music on public radio. There are some fantastic accents to be heard in this part of the country. At first some of them sound like they are doing it for joke (hey...fair's fair, they have been laughing at the way I talk for 4,000 miles now!).

Passed a sign for Dolly Parton's theme park "Dollywood" at Pigeon Forge, but the need for speed prevented me from taking a detour. Arrived at Morganton about 6.30, hot, sticky and as usual, in need of cold beer. Not seen any evidence of bars nor liquor stores - was this a dry county? "Yes" said the desk clerk "but you are in luck, the county is dry but the city is not - there is a mexican restaurant in the shopping mall that has a bar". Yippee - more burrittos!

I am not a religious person, so it amuses me that in a country that takes its Bible very seriously, and in many instances literally, the local convenience stores are open all day on Sundays - one boasting 7 day opening 0700-2300....hallelujah! What happened to the day of rest?


Saturday, 23 June 2007

"Nashville Cats" 0 Miles

Another sticky 95F day in prospect. Went out to hit the shops and sure enough found Ernest Tubbs famous music store on Broadway. You will be hearing the result of this visit when I return.

Even mid morning bands were playing in bars. I wondered if I should visit the Grand Ole Opry but despite the attractions of Pam Tillis and Marty Stuart among others, I decided to go there another time. Instead I headed for the County Music Hall Of Fame. This is a fantastic place for music lovers with the whole history of country and its artists lovingly set out on three floors of a purpose built building. There is, as you would imagine, a huge amount to see and hear, as well as acres of memorabilia.

I took loads of pictures of, among other items, the colourful suits that Nudie Cohn used to design. For me, the most evocative was the suit that Gram Parsons wore on the cover of the "Flying Burritto Bros" album. There were special booths where you could revisit classics such as "Blue Yodel" by Jimmie Rodgers or "He Stopped Loving Her Today" George Jones. In fact speaking of George "No show" Jones as he was known when he was battling alcoholism, the only omission was the ride-on mower that he used to drive into town to buy booze when his then wife Tammy Wynette had confiscated his car keys. It is a wonderful exhibition and had me damp eyed throughout. I am a sentimental old fool and the music and the place just struck all the right notes.

Back at the hotel the guy from the room next door says to me, "Hey - you from Tesla?" (the rock band Tesla are in town tonight).

"Er no, you got a ticket?"

"Yeah - Tesla rock old bean - toodle pip."


"Oh maaan sooorrry. I have had a few beers, didn't mean to upset you". I have had my accent badly imitated so many times it is beginning to grate. I may do a bad US accent at home, but I would never dream of doing it to an American's face!!

In the evening, I thought I would have a change of genre and go to B.B King's Blues Bar. It is one of several he has around the U.S. and I fancied a bit of R&B. Early evening act had a great female singer but I was less impressed with her band. As you would expect with a "named" bar there is a theme: there are blues/B.B King cocktails such as "Lucille" and "Muddy Water". I was tempted to ask if they did a drink called "The Thril Is Gone" but thought better of it; however as I had consumed two tall beers I was allowed to take the glass home.

Still quite early, so snuck into a tiny bar that promised "steel guitar and fiddle". An old guy on stage with an acoustic and his mate with an electric sitting at the back doing the sound as well. Didn't stay there long. Next bar and another terrific house band playing for tips. At one point the lead singer disappeared. As I reached for my beer I noticed on the bar next to it a pair of cowboy boots, and these were on the end of the legs of the singer who was on the bar top roaring his heart out. Now that's entertainment!!


Friday, 22 June 2007

"Let me tell you a story 'bout a man named Jed" 162 Miles

I set off from Paducah with no particular plan in mind. Ahhh, the optimism of the Americans and their broad highways coursing through my increasingly clogged veins.

After the excitment of Fathers Day, they were yipping about the 20th June, which for us Brits is a moment of gloom being the longest day. Soon we will be plunged into darkness of winter. To the Americans the 20th is the first day of summer! This keeps them happy and is a useful peg for their advertising strategies (BBQ and pool sets) for a couple of weeks until July 4th - whatever that's all about!

After stopping at a roadside diner for catfish (damn, fried again), I thought I would head for Lexington.

The idea of this trip was to see the big country. The cities I can visit on a piecemeal basis another time. It has all been about the journey. However, the moment I saw a sign which read "Nashville 139 miles" I was toast.

I24 took me there in 2 hours and I took the downtown turnoff. Ten minutes later the valet parking guy "stole" my vehicle and it was out into town.

Not sure if I have been anywhere yet where the daytime temperature has been under 85- 92F, and a high humidity makes for a very sticky boy.

After getting my bearings, I picked up a free newspaper and had a look at the events listings. Who was on in town tonight? A rare performance by 83 year old banjo legend Earl Scruggs. I hot footed it down to the Ryman Auditorium and they had a few single tickets left. A little laundry, a shower and some chicken tenders later and I was being ushered to my seat.

The Ryman is a former church and so the seating is in the form of long curved pews with numbers screwed to them to denote places. The elderly usherette looked at my ticket and then at the pew said "No, this won't do at all - I am going to have to put you someplace else". The reason was enormously and bulbously clear - sitting in his seat.....and mine as well, was a bloke who at a conservative estimate must have weighed thirty stones! I was shown to a nearly empty row about 5 from the stage.

Earl Scruggs may be 83 and obviously frail but he can still cut it. With the help of an amazing band, which included two of his sons, and an audience who applauded every "plunk", it was a memorable evening. 61 years after he first appeared at the Ryman, he was headlining for the very first time. To hear everyone (myself included - I still remember the words), singing along to "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" brought a lump to the throat.

All over by 10.30, it was a short walk to Broadway and its bars. Every joint had a band playing....and a good one too. I went and sat in "The Second Fiddle" and watched a terrific group, which included a phenominal guitar player and a pedal steel player. They played for tips - no cover charge. What was interesting about the audience at the Ryman and the crowd in the bar, the age range was across the board - young to old. Country has no barriers.


"On the banks of the Ohio..." 354 Miles

Worrying that Branson would steal my soul and I would face all eternity watching sundry magicians, cabaret musicians and "The Magic of Pets", I hurried out of town after a breakfast at a "family" restaurant.

Not sure why that prefix makes an eaterie any better than its competitor! I had ham and eggs and biscuits and gravy. The ham and eggs were easily recognisable, however a side order of creamy grey sludge and a scone was not what I thought biscuits and gravy were supposed to to look and taste like. Around me, elderly Americans were peering at their breakfasts and tutting that that was not what they ordered. Maybe there was some meltdown going on in the kitchen.

I naturally did what Brits do when faced with a less than satisfactory meal and asked what I thought by the waitress..."Mmm, lovely thank you very much"! Next time I am in a similar position I shall order: "Ham, poached eggs, coffee and give me a side of creamy grey sludge and a scone" and I will see what turns up.

One of the things about this journey is that whilst I am enjoying it very much. It is shattering a few myths and creating a few more. We will doubtless discuss this topic on the show when I get back.

Not sure where to go, so I decided to carry on heading east along Highway 160. I stopped for fuel at a ramshackle filling station in West Plains. Just as I reached for the pump an old man hobbled out of the shop and said: "Wrong one son.." I hadn't done this before, but I was day dreaming as usual and I was about to fill the car with diesel. The green nozzles are for diesel and the black ones for unleaded here, as many of you know. Doh!

Poplar Bluff, Dexter, Sikeston came and went. Thinking about stopping for the night and saw a sign marked "Cairo". Headed in that direction suddenly I was on a narrow metal bridge and out over the Mississippi into Illinois. Cairo had some lovely old houses but they were all in various states of disrepair. Obvious that this place was in need of regeneration, so I pressed on. Suddenly another narrow bridge and another huge river...the Ohio. Once on the other side I was in Kentucky.

Eventually stopped at Paducah and checked into a motel. They had extreme difficulty understanding me although I did point out politely that it cuts both ways.

No one yet has managed to get my address down correctly despite me spelling it out for them. The internet didn't work in my room, so I gave up blogging and crossed the highway to a Mexican restaurant called "Los Amigos" for two huge vases of Don Equis. There I learned the secret of the differences between a Burritto and a Fajita; something to do with ground beef rice and cheese! However, as I was on my second frosted vase by then I am not sure I was taking it all in.

I picked up the local paper. I love reading newspapers over here as they concentrate on what is important to the local community. There is little or no national, and hardly any international, news coverage. This one had a huge births deaths and marriages section. The big story was one of the marriage in France of one of Paducah's most famous daughters: Jeri Ryan, perhaps better known to us as "7 of 9" from Star Trek Voyager.

Tottered back to my room and had troubled dreams of food and the Borg.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

"We gotta get outta this place..." 25 Miles

My computer has gone bang! Halfway through writing e-mails or this blog, the keyboard will either freeze or I will get a blue screen and a glimpse of some warning message before the whole thing shuts down. I can't go a step further without it being fixed.

If you are avoiding the big cities as I am (wanting to see small town USA, which was the purpose of this visit), you can't expect the services you are used to in every high street in the UK. For example, a friend has lent me an American mobile phone as his kids live over here. It is a "Pay As You Go" type, so I needed to put some credit onto the SIM. To do that over the phone you need a Zip Code as well as your credit card number; it won't work with a British post code. Back in LA, I tried several times until they suggested I visited a T Mobile shop and got it done in person. This I duly did. A few texts and a couple of calls back home and the money was gone. Could I find a T Mobile shop??? Not a chance.

Where I have been, I could buy a tractor or a gun any time I wanted, but a top up for my mobile was impossible. Eventually, I tried the call centre again and to my surprise and delight I now have dollars on the card. The same is true of computer shops. I looked in the phone book and located one which, like most places, was 5 miles out of town; hence the mileage.

They promised to give my machine the once over and said I should return in an hour. I went for a burger and was complimented on my hat by a woman who said I was "cute". I then realised that she was with her parents and was erm... "differently abled". So her critical faculties may have been impaired.

An hour later the guy in the shop said the hard drive etc was fine and he needed to run software tests, so could I come back in about 3 hours time. What to do for 3 hours??? The Titanic Exhibition seemed the logical choice!
As you can see from the picture, they have built a smaller scale replica of part of the vessel. You enter through what they describe as "Waterloo Station" which looks nothing like, but still. Everyone is given a card with biographical details of a passenger or crew memeber. You are that person and you can find out if you survived when you get to the end of the exhibition. Speaking as William McMaster Murdoch, First Officer, I am delighted to report I survived. Although, looking at the glass wall with all the names, I noted that third class passenger James Lester, alas, didn't survive. It is a clever exhibition, which takes at least an hour to get round. Nice touches, which give you the opportunity to stand on the deck at different times so you can fight against the angle of the ship's list. To me, the most interesting thing was the bowl of swirling water in which you could dip a digit which is kept at the correct temperature of the ocean at the time the unfortunate people plunged in. It was cold!

Back up to "Cyberstreet" and they said that my laptop checked out perfectly. Maybe it was getting too hot, they suggested. I am now typing this with the motel air con on full blast. So far so good.

"Hear those grand old Ozark Mountains callin' me..." 0 miles

I had read about Branson before I came. It is a small town that has sold its soul for shows. Family shows - good, wholesome entertainment.. In truth this actually means 'Cheese'.

The Americans are the world leaders in this and it is something for which we should be truly thankful. The huge competition means that everything has to be as good as it can be. So even the smallest venue has pretty high production values.

I went to see a Red Skelton tribute act by Tom Mullica. OK, you have probably seen him in a few old films but I didn't realise that he had a national tv show for over 20 years. A lot of it was fairly baffling to me as I wasn't au fait with many of the characters he portrayed. However, the audience loved it. There was also the moment where the patriotism kicked in and also the plug for the DVD on sale at the back of the theatre, which was interwoven as part of the act.

Branson is aware that much of its audience is elderly so it tailors not only the turns but also the times. This show was at 10.00am!

At 2pm I went to witness "14 Karat Country" a polished 6 piece who did country music and "shtick". They were a covers band and a very good one too. It was all in bite sized pieces of mainly 60's and early 70s tunes, complete with meet and greet the during the interval. Both shows I saw had an interval for elderly bladders and DVD/CD sales opportunities.

The patriotism went one further with this lot when they stopped the show and asked for war veterans and/or their widows to stand up and be counted/saluted and applauded. Frankly, for this old cynic it was quite moving when a few people rose to their feet, some with difficulty and were duly honoured.

Therein lies the problem with Branson - simply one of numbers, and a subject that Radio 2 addressed some years ago: If you are catering for the over 60's your audience, alas, isn't going to grow. They are beginning to realise that the market is dying and unless they reposition themselves they are sunk.

One thing that did ram home the whole "elderly" thing was that many places shut at about 9pm. A woman in a bar told me "We roll up the streets at 9.30".

Its wholesome fun for all the family and nearly impossible to cross the road. The elderly drive from one venue to another seeing 3 or even 4 shows a day before being tucked up at 10pm. There is an endless stream of very slow moving traffic as a result.

I enjoyed the break from the driving and the low key humour: "Algy saw the bear, the bear saw Algy. The bear had a bulge, the bulge was Algy". The U.S has a fixation with the $3 gallon of petrol which to us seems like a bargain. "Taco Bell, the only place you can get gas for less then $3" Hey, fart gags are universal!

After a day here though, I am looking forward to hitting the road. However it is not that easy......!


"Dead skunk in the middle of the road..." 274 Miles

An evening drinking beer from frosted glasses at "Mickey B's" in Iola, along with a bunch of farmers who were complaining about the low hog prices and chatting with the woman behind the bar in the tiny top and even tinier denim shorts.

"Like your curls," she said and then told me, rather too quickly I thought, that she was dating the son of a British ex-pat. I retired to my room in the "Crossroads Motel" (yes honestly, and no, they had never heard of the TV show).

Next morning, and another hot day. Off I went again east on the 54 to Fort Scott. Then I turned south to Joplin and looped through a bit of Arkansas and into Missouri. I was in need of light entertainment and knew exactly where to go.....!

The scenery was changing. Slowly it turned into the low (well for the US, not for us) rolling lush green Ozark Mountains. As the area is far more densely wooded, I started to notice more roadkill compared to my previous days driving. There was the odd small deer, a very smelly brown bear from the look of it, numerous racoons and sundry odd creatures I was not sure of. Pretty sure one was an armadillo though, and a skunk. I did wonder if they smelled better dead than alive.

Eventually I arrived at the "cheese" capital of the USA - Branson, Missouri. A resort town that boasts dozens of theatres and even more shows. Finding a room is, as usual, no problem and once I have showered and unpacked it was time to see what delights the town had to offer this weary traveller. First impression: the tourists do seem a little....erm, elderly. It seems a bit like Bexhill with neon.

Check out my route so far at www.bbc.co.uk/radio2. Click on my show page and then "The Great American Adventure". You'll find it eventually!

Monday, 18 June 2007

"Where seldom is heard a discouraging word..." 291 Miles

I lit outta Dodge at high noon just after the scheduled gunfight and continued heading east.

Still a lot of Kansas to go. Mile after mile of the Great Plains with nothing to catch the eye apart from the roadside advertising hoardings.

Cheery messages such as "Smile, your Mom chose Life" or "A baby's heart is beating 24 days after conception."

I then came upon a large crucifix with a foetus where Jesus would have been. Underneath, a banner read: "America's Holocaust - 55 million abortions."

To leaven things in between the ads for mundane stuff like cars, clairvoyants and propane products were "improving" religious tracts or, as it was nearly Fathers Day (something taken very seriously over here - by the way, I love you Dad), were exhortations such as: "As a father it is your duty to teach your children God's law".

I turned on the radio and a talk show host had a woman on the phone and throughout the conversation they referred to a Witchita based doctor who specialised in terminations as: "Tiller the killer". Free speech is enshrined in the first amendment of the U.S. constitution; I just wonder what it must be like living in a small town in the "Land of the free, home of the brave" where your opinions don't match those of your neighbours.

I passed through Greensburg where a tornado had hit a few months earlier. The devastation is total in the path of the twister, yet leaving other buildings totally untouched. The hospital is now housed in tents.

At Eureka (home to aprevious twister), I stoped at a liquor store to stock up and had this opening conversational gambit with the shopkeeper: "How you doin?".... "Er I am fine thank you. Are you well?"...."Can I weld?...what kinda question is that!!".

He was a nice man with the whitest teeth I have ever seen (something we will cover at the end of my trip in a "Mythbusters" section). A few miles later I was in a bar in Iola. A smallish town, population of around 6-7000. One radio station, a few bars and restaurants and according to the town website if I have done my maths correctly...27 churches!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

"I'm a stranger here, just blowed in your town..." 314 miles

Practically in as many days, I have moved 3 time zones - Pacific to Mountain, now in Central time.

I am driving across the Great Plains, where a huge proportion of the food is produced. It is wheat and cattle country. More or less completely flat as far as the eye can see, with the landscape dotted with grain elevators, and then there is the all pervading smell of... errr... cows.

Now I know what the cruise control is for. I have been on Highway 50 the whole day. The concept of miles now seems pointless. I have also given up on the map more or less, and am now navigating by the sun. It is behind me so I must be heading east.

When I eventually hit Dodge City, I am expecting a big place full of cowpokes. It is a smallish place desperately trying to turn itself into a theme park. I halt and meet Betty in the Boot Hill Information centre who patiently answers my questions and asks where I am from. I am then requested to push a pin into the european map she has set up. Every time you undertake a transaction in Boot Hill they ask where you are from. I have a load of pamphlets thrust into my hand and am asked to return early tomorrow for a guided tour round town. Everything seems to have a wild west twist; then again, this is/was the wild west. Not sure it is that wild now. However, everyone is terribly friendly and I am also beginning to experience a certain curiosity from the natives. This never happened on the west coast. Takes time to get to my motel as due to roadworks, traffic is moving slowly on Wyatt Earp.

As I check in I notice all the pictures are paintings or photos of cowboys and there is a tv in the lobby showing old cowboy movies or episodes of "Gunsmoke". Think it's time to freshen up a little then I guess I'll mosey into town...


Saturday, 16 June 2007

"I've been to Colorado where the mountains touch the sky...." 333 miles

"So waddya think of Blair?" said the thick set guy with the faded teeshirt and baseball cap, occupying the corner seat at the bar. (Thinks: "he looks like he is perhaps a Republican...."). Back to Doug in a moment.

Set off from Cortez and I realised that I had crossed a timezone so was now only 7 hours behind the UK. Drove up into the San Juan Mountains - part of the Rockies. The scenery changed from hot and dry to lush green with spruce pine, waterfalls, rivers and snow capped peaks. A DJ called "Cheeky Monkey" on KOTO in Telluride had a caller on asking for volunteers to help remove a fallen tree from a creek, "It could be kinda fun". In Montrose some hours later, another DJ (I think he may have been on KPAW: The Bear), was talking about "the big chili cook off" this weekend; away from the major cities you make your own entertainment.

A few hours later I was down the other side in the heat of Canon City sitting in a bar with one other customer.....Doug.

"Tony Blair?...well erm....fudgety fudge fudge fudge...erm good and er not so good....fudgety....(Don't mention the war)...erm WMD (damn too late you fool)....45 minutes erm not sure about the erm intelligence...fudge fudge....however Saddam Hussein didn't seem like he was a very nice man....erm fudgety"

Doug: "That French guy was a bad man too!"

Me: (Brain: Skkreeeeee... halt!.) You honestly can't believe that Jaques Chirac was as bad as Saddam Hussein just because he disagreed with the US??? Think of it this way you two are very similar: No one tells the Americans what to do...the French do what they like as well. On this occasion you disagreed. The French were on your side against us in the War of Independence!! "

Not sure Doug was entirely convinced, but he did buy me a drink which was kind of him.

Staggered, several hours later, back to my room and at 06:30 all hell broke loose. A spectacularly loud noise rent the air and made the walls shake. I had failed to spot a sign on the back of the door which read "A railroad runs the entire length of Canon City...the law says the train must sound its whistle at every road crossing...we can do nothing about it and we apologise for any inconvenience. I had heard that lonesome whistle blow!

Enjoying the blog? Check my (totally accurate) route so far- the map can be accessed via my showpage at: www.bbc.co.uk/radio2

Thursday, 14 June 2007

"Along the Navajo trail..." 366 miles

Double whammy! this is turning into a proper America trip. Set off about 9am and drove up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Impressive, but somehow having seen so many photos and with all the amazing scenery I have seen so far on this trip, it didn't overwhelm me as I expected it to.

Headed for Monument Valley; the one "must see" on this trip. To get there I drove through the arid Navajo Indian reservation with its lay bys filled with stalls selling genuine pottery and jewellery. I had promised a friend I would get her a necklace.

At a Grand Canyon official gift shop amongst the dream catchers and the like I spotted a sign: "All our products American made" The the rack I was looking at had a small sign which read: "Indian American products not made by Indian Americans"!

That is why I turned into a lay by which had the sign "Nice Indians". They were selling arrows, mind you. The young woman who sold me the item said she had made it herself although she was a bit hazy as to what it was made from. Seeing the grinding poverty I felt better about buying it from her rather than the park gift shop. National parks are not free: Yosemite and Sequoia cost me $20 a piece. Grand Canyon, secure in its reputation, asks you to stump up $25.

Still only about 11.30 so I decided I would go for Monument Valley today as well. This to me was worth the price of the ticket alone. Something I had seen in Westerns ever since I was a child. I was a rider on the range. Only downside was they had just tarred the road so when I stepped out to take a photo the feet got stuck.

Then at a nearby petrol station one of the many native American hustlers tried to sell me a moccasin....ONE? Maybe be I had strayed into Hopi territory. Navajo, Blackfeet, Hopi....maybe I should Sioux. (Sorry I was on a tribal roll there).

I wanted to get from Arizona to Colorado even though the route strayed into Utah and Mormon territory. Not a lot of "down drinking at the bar" thereabouts. Headed up through Mexican Hat which boasted a number of motels with bars attached. I have learned to distrust neon signs. Everyone loves their neon, so what you think is a bar turns out to be an estate agent, a church or maybe a nail clinic.

Ute mountain took me to Cortez and a few drinks and another burrito this time in "Blondie's Pub and Grub" - a biker bar with lots of Hulk Hogan lookalikes on Harleys. Although it does have a website if you want to go find it. The nice woman who served me was anything but blonde...she may not have been the owner.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

"I get my kicks on..." 283 miles

Decided to head for the Grand Canyon - however, whilst looking at the map I realised I could take in the Hoover Dam on the way. A few days ago when I was still further west a guy said "the big stuff's over there," pointing eastwards. So far he has been right.

"Rrrrrrrr bertwing" The fridge in my room at the motel made this noise everytime its motor started up...still not to worry, it was keeping my beer cool. I keep a stash in the car in case I run into a dry county on my travels. It was my 7 O'clock alarm.

Skirted Las Vegas heading south on highway 93 some terrific advertising signs: "Dermatologist...acne, birth marks..skin cancer". "Evening appetite control tablets" Presumably the antidote to the Taco Bell ads which proclaim: "the fourth meal....bring on the night". Once into Arizona there was an interesting road safety ad in several section along the highway that read: "A man, a miss....a car a curve.....he kissed the miss and missed the curve".

Hoover Dam was specatacular and a testament to 1930s architecture. It reminded me slightly of the BBC's broadcasting house in London. Large, metal, highly polished doors and handrails. Marble in the restrooms.

Fell into conversation with Noel who was also on his mid-life crisis trip. He was originally from Bristol and now living in Ireland and was travelling by motorcycle from Washington to San Francisco. He suggested going to New York via Denver as the Rocky Mountains were spectacular he said. May take him up on that.

Not going to make it to the Grand Canyon today but it did give me a chance to drive along a part of the old Route 66 on the way to Williams.

Listening to the country station KFLG::"K Flag". Deserted highway. Some tumbleweed blew across the road in front of me......perfect!


"6 days on the road..." 368 miles

I am going to have to boil the car I have decided. The heat and the sand and the sun tan oil have left every surface stained and smudged. If I continue my regime of "man moisturiser" and the factor 30 my face is going to slide off. It makes for interesting reactions at truck stops when I open the door with my "melting Goth" look.

Visalia to Parhump was today's trip which took me up through the Sierra Nevada and then down, down, down into Death Valley - reputedly the hottest place on earth and 260 feet below sea level. Temperatures as high as 120f have been recorded here. However, luckily for me I chose a mild day with a positively balmy 107f. Stocked up with water at Lake Isabella and decided to leave the air con off in case it overheated the engine. It didn't, but I did.

There is a splendid and slightly unnerving feeling of isolation driving mile after mile over a deserted and not very smooth road with few if any other vehicles. With no mobile signal, there is at the back of your mind that "what if..." feeling.

As Parhump is in Nevada, despite it being a one horse town it is also a gamblers paradise. Sat at the bar in a small casino with the same video gaming machines set into the bar top that I saw in Reno. Meanwhile a woman behind the bar did her best to drum up custom.

Sitting reading the paper and this voice says "you wanna Jaegermeister shot with that?".....nearly at the bottom of the glass and ...whack...another drink arrives. "erm I didn't order that..." "you don't wannit?" "well now that its here I'll drink it". She didn't charge me for the last one.


Tuesday, 12 June 2007

"And I love Yosemite, I love you land of sunshine..." 279 miles

"You wanna go pee pee or potty?" said the father of a small child in the restroom of "Nicelys" Diner/Cocktail lounge/Laundromat (multitasking) in Lee Vining. He then started to wash his hands. Something I had been attempting to do but was unable to get the taps to work. "Just pull and turn" he said. "So that is why you rule the world?" I replied..."you can do stuff we can't!" He looked for a moment and then started to laugh.

As I filled up with fuel at the petrol station across the street a group of old men had gathered at the workshop to talk. "they meet here everyday to shoot the breeze" said the pump attendant. "nice place to be" said I. "Ok if you like being poor" he replied. Obvious when you think of it. Tiny community no jobs.

Driving up through the park it was sensory overload time. The sights the smells the wildlife (one dead deer, lot of dragon flies, no bears). The guide book says "don't approach wildlife" like I am going to saunter up to a grizzly! Eventually ended up in a small town called Visalia. The motel receptionist who's eyeshadow matched her top told me all the bars were up on "Brubaker". I walked for blocks and even asked in a Chinese restaurant. No one had heard of it. Ended up in a bar/restaurant called "Crawddadys". Met a bloke who was a jazz drummer who asked me; "does anyone like us?"

Enjoying the blog? Check my (totally accurate) route so far- the map can be accessed via my showpage at: www.bbc.co.uk/radio2

Sunday, 10 June 2007

"And you played without a care but not up in the High Sierra" 176 miles

All the things you read about Casino gambling are true. I lost track of time. One minute I was checking in to my room in a casino hotel the next it was the following morning.

In between times I took in a comedy show. "Ladeez and genlemen, please welcome from England Mr Joel Sanders" - all this way to watch a British comic? Main event was "cowboy comedian" Kip Attaway who did jokes and bawdy songs and had props like hats and sang with helium. This was more like it! I enjoyed him, as did the mainly silver haired audience who didn't bat an eyelid as he sang songs such as "How Can I Tell You I Love You When You're Sitting On My Face? "Paris Hilton Is A Million Dollar Ho!".

After that it was time for gambling ... oddly enough wandering through the casinos and seeing people grimly staring at slot machines, or watching the turn of a card without any semblance of enjoyment on their faces put me right off. That, and my inherent meanness and lack of understanding of games of chance. So I decided to wander round and watch instead.

Nothing gets in the way of the gambling. All the bar tops have machines let into them so you can't have a drink without there being the opportunity to lose a few dollars.

Police are everywhere, as you would expect when there are people staggering around with large amounts of cash on them. In one bar a man was sitting handcuffed on the floor as security waited for the cops to turn up. Seemingly oblivious, the punters played the slots around him. In another casino a soul band were doing some excellent covers to an audience of about 12 people. - a seemingly thankless task, but, like true professionals, they gave it their all. A few more beers and it is was 3am and I was eating again ..... damn!

Later that morning I got my car back from valet parking (odd feeling paying someone $3 to drive away in your vehicle) and headed for Yosemite.

I took the scenic route round the southern end of Lake Tahoe. The sun was scorching, but it got cooler the higher I climbed into the mountains. The views just get more spectacular and the smell of the pine forest has now been joined by that of sagebrush. Just over the summit, Lake Mono came into view which was jaw dropping. Headed down into the basin and am now holed up in a little motel which smells of cinnamon and coffee as it has a coffee shop attached in the small town of Lee Vining.

Tomorrow I am going to tackle Yosemite. I can see the snow capped mountains from my room as I type.


Saturday, 9 June 2007

"All the way to Reno..." 262 miles

Sat Nav and San Francisco don't mix. I set off early to beat the rush and had gone one block before the sat nav told me to "return to route". For some reason it lagged at least a couple of blocks behind and wanted me to turn left all the time. (something the City authorities seem to have banned as it just wasn't possible).

I switched it off and used the man method .... I just drove with a rudimentary street plan. A mere 14 miles later I ended up heading north over the fog shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. It may be a lot shorter than the Humber Bridge but it is way more impressive.

The journey up to Reno was fairly uneventful with no wrong turnings and yet more spectacular mountain scenery. I turned off the interstate a few times to have a look at stuff including the "Donner Lake Park" near "Truckee". There I found a pine cone as big as my shoe.

The scenery and scale is so vast that it takes your breath away. I am beginning to get an understanding, I think, of why Americans are the way they are. I can only guess it has something to do with the sheer size of the place.

Man cannot live by juice alone. If I don't get some vegetables inside me soon I may end up like Elvis. This diet is playing merry hell with the internal economy. I had a salad when I arrived which admittedly contained lettuce and tomatoes; however it was sabotaged by blue cheese, bacon strips and a very heavy dressing.

There is an ad here, which is very funny, for a lite beer which applauds the "genius who invented...". It goes something along the lines of "The taco salad; a 12,000 calorie feast of ground beef, cheese and a few sorry scraps of lettuce....is it healthy? It's a salad aint it?!"

Now its time to be a high roller ... or more likely a low roller as I have never been a gambler. I hope don't get a taste for it....


"We Built This City On Rock 'N' Roll ..." 0 miles

Ahh, the city by the bay - the city that never sleeps !

Can't shake off the early starts, so about 8 I set off for a good trudge round town. Down the main drag, Market Street, even boasts a shop called "Oxford Streeet," which sadly it most resembles. Got to the cable car stop but the queues were too long even at that time of the morning, although some people do use them to commute. I find it marginally quicker to walk. So, off to the piers and Fisherman's Wharf.

As I was passing Union Square I heard music - it was the local police band, all in uniform, rehearsing a fantastic version of Santana's "Game of Love". The moment was so perfect and they were so good, I felt quite emotional. By the time I had dawdled my way to Pier 39 and watched a fine busker singing and playing his saxophone, it was time for something to eat. One chilli dog later, I boarded a boat for a trip round the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge and a circumnavigation of Alcatraz. The commentary was very good too. I never knew that Mark Twain said; "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco". Mind you, he had a point. Despite the sunshine the wind was a mite parky.

Arriving back on dry land to a barking chorus from the local population of sealions, I continued walking; I still think it is one of the best ways to see a city. Coit Tower, Nob Hill, Chinatown, including the white and blue painted wooden "First Chinese Southern Baptist Church" (bet that makes for an interesting service on a Sunday morning). My shoes seems to have healed themselves or at least are no longer leaking oil. 5pm - mmmm - beer time!

Since I was last here in 1985, the area south of Market Street has been regenerated to a degree and is now sold as "SOMA" (south of market...geddit?). So one or two new fashionable bars have opened up. Attracted the odd glance from the glitterati as I ordered a drink. Not sure it was my quaint accent - more like my attire ("marginal bum" - a rather scruffy bloke with a peeling face). Still, it ensured that I wasn't troubled by any of the scores of panhandlers that roam the streets. I am sure there are more of them since my last trip. Back on the road tomorrow.....where to next?

Thursday, 7 June 2007

"Santa Cruz (it's not that far)..." 295 miles

My face is peeling...this is not a good look. Serves me right, though. No mistakes from now on: baseball cap, sunglasses and factor 30. This combination does make me look a little like the "invisible man" - or just a ghost.

Cream cheese bagel and orange juice and it's onto the 101 to San Francisco.

My first stop was the gas station where my card won't work in the automatic pump. It only accepts cards with zip codes, and a postal code of St Leonards on sea just won't cut it. The woman in the kiosk says "gas up" so that is what I do.

$3.55 a gallon (US gallon is slightly smaller than British) and yesterday 195 miles in a 5.7 litre Mustang cost me $23 about £14! Despite this the radio is peppered with ads for "economy cars that now do 30 mpg on an out of town drive."

The 101 becomes Highway 1 and it's pleasant going until the San Simeon National Park and Hearst Castle, once home to newspaper tycooon William Randolph Hearst and model for "Citizen Kane".

I drove up to the car park which was full of people waiting to go on a lengthy guided tour. Peered at it on the top of the hill through a convenient telescope and left.

This is where the drive becomes more interesting and the road is narrower with many more bends. With the top down and a stiff breeeze, the smell of the pine trees and the seaweed is a heady mixture. I took a few photos but gave up after a while as round every bend is a better view.

Managed to take a wrong turn and went round Santa Cruz a few times and by the time I got to Half Moon Bay I realised that I was going to "The City" as they like to call it bang on 5pm.

6 lanes of Freeway in the rush hour reminded me of the scene in "LA Story" with Steve Martin as the drivers shoot at one another. No firearms in evidence but lane discipline is obviously something British. The idea is to go as fast as you can in any lane and if you see a gap anywhere, its yours, so go for it. Bizarrely I knew where I needed to be - "7th St off ramp and turn left." Suddenly I saw a sign.....so off I went, turned left, and drew up outside a motel I last visited 22 years ago.


Wednesday, 6 June 2007

"LA is a great big freeway...." 195 miles.

"Take a right onto La Cienega, a left on to Sunset and keep going!" With those words echoing in my ears I set off into the mid morning traffic. 15 miles later I was out of the city heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Santa Monica, Malibu...this was easy, until I suddenly found myself in Port Hueneme an ugly place and home to a US Naval base. I hightailed it our of there and found an even uglier place: Oxnard.

Ventura and Santa Barbara came and went...was I having any fun yet?

Thought it would be a good idea to stop and look at stuff, so turned off highway 101 and headed for Gaviota State park. Paid $8 to enter and then went and sat on the beach looking at the oil rigs a few miles off the coast. I paddled in the Pacific and lay on the sand. Due to the breeze, my ear and nostrils, and later, I discovered, my camera began to fill with sand. Back to the car and tar. The soles of my feet were completely black and I am going to have to throw my shoes away as soon as I locate another pair. (Man packing!)

Back onto the highway and more rolling scenery as well as Los Alamos and the Vandenburg Air Force base. Mid-afternoon and where to stay? Buellton looked promising until I saw a hoarding proclaiming "Buellton home of split pea soup" somehow that dampened my enthusiasm. On to Santa Maria then (pop 90000). Hmmm...still not sure that I was having fun. Then I remembered the radio. On came Martina McBride "This is KRZE 105.9 crazy country" and slowly I began to smile.


Tuesday, 5 June 2007

"Walking on Sunset"

After a typical US breakfast of Corned beef hash, hash browns and just the two eggs (it was the diet option), the whole city lay before me. Here, public transport seems to be an after thought, with a rather rudimentary Metro system and a fine collection of buses that would see me having to change every few stops. So, I decided to do what everyone advises against and walk!

A cool humid morning changed to a blistering hot day as I trudged around all those streets that we know so well from music and the TV: Hollywood, Wilshire, Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards. Lennox and Melrose Avenues as well as Vine and Le Brea, home to the infamous tar pits!

The day wore on and the sun grew hotter as I sauntered past various film studios and the homes of the wealthy. Luckily their servants were invariably using lawn sprinklers which kept me slightly cooler although I did get some odd looks. As the city is so vast everything seems to be several miles away from where you are currently standing. Eventually after walking much of the length of the star studded and tawdry Sunset past Graummans Chinese Theatre with the famous hand and footprints in the cement out front (Gene Kelly had tiny tootsies), I hopped on the Metro down to Union Station to witness the Conductor ringing the bell and shouting "All aboard"!

My only concession to Californification so far has been a fruit smoothie which contained: 2 apples, half a mango, half a pineapple half a banana and half a kiwifruit. Also wheat and barley grass, broccoli, spinach, green tea sprollina chlorella, blue green algae, garlic and of course Echinacia....er yum!

I am looking forward to getting the car in a few minutes and heading out of LA. However which direction to travel?

Monday, 4 June 2007

"I love LA....We love it!"

Long and tedious flight sitting next to a man who insisted on coughing into his handkerchief and then examining the contents. In the row in front a young couple fuelled on fizzy drinks fidgited and moved their seat backs several times an hour. Eyes red with watching films and old tv comedy...."Cheers" had some good lines, but "Wings"? That was never funny! Immigration wasn't nearly as long and tedious asI expected then out of the airport to the tender mercies of Isaac the Latvian cabbie who took me to the hotel although he did have some trouble finding it. He called the despatcher via the 2 way radio and got directions that way. He said he was able to do that as he knew English. A mate of his didn't speak a word and so was always getting lost...so much for "the knowledge". Now trying to get my borrowed US pay as you go phone working. Everyone I talk to is achingly polite using my first name more times than a football manager mentions the name of his interviewer..."Gary" however I can do the credit card thing until it comes to a lack of "zip code" at that point it all falls apart. Think I may give up for today....those 17 episodes of "Cheers" have given me an idea...


Tuesday, 29 May 2007

5 days now and counting

Still not fully organised but am now beginning to get the dire warnings in from the listeners. Where to go and what not to do. The spectre of the Top Gear trip to the deep south seems to be the reference point. However some excellent music suggestions are coming in too as to the soundtrack for my trip. I will be playing some of them on my last show this coming friday. Still not packed though and am definitely going to travel light.

Friday, 25 May 2007

One week and counting

Flying out a week on sunday. Still fiddling around trying to tie up loose ends so that I don't leave chaos behind me. I also need to make sure I can work all the necessary technology and check I have all the relevant documentation. I went to Madeira once and forgot my driving licence so that rather ruined the prospect of car hire. Bearing in mind I intend to spend the whole of June with the wind in my hair going where the weather suits my clothes in a convertible. No driving licence would rather compromise the dream.


Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Here We Go!

Just one month to go before the American Adventure starts!

Just one month to go before the American Adventure starts!
Just one month to go before the American Adventure starts!
Just one month to go before the American Adventure starts!
Just one month to go before the American Adventure starts!